INTERVIEW / An elf-hero with a case of the mauves: Anthony Quinn talks to Armistead Maupin about his latest book, a tale set in Tinseltown

THE NAME, apparently, goes way back to the Huguenots. 'Maupin was anglicised about 300 years ago,' says its owner, a dapper fortysomething with one of the neatest haircuts I've ever seen, 'and Armistead, an early English word for 'hermitage', is a long-time family name. I come from a very genealogically conscious line. My English grandmother's name was Mary Armistead Jones - all her friends called her Mary Armistead . . . so far none of my friends has called me Mary Armistead.'

This venerable lady, an early suffragist and a 'deeply theatrical person', clearly made a lasting impression on her grandson. 'She was a great inspiration. She was the first person who told me that my true self was the most attractive presentation I could make to the world, and that was not a theory which enjoyed widespread popularity in the Deep South of the 1950s.'

Widespread popularity is exactly what Armistead Maupin enjoys these days. His Tales of the City saga, which began life in 1976 as a daily serial in the San Francisco Chronicle, transported the author from the margins of cultdom to the main-feature of celebrity. The sixth book in the sequence, Sure of You, came out in 1990 to rapturous acclaim - and then it was over. Maupin decided that his superior soap opera should end while the lather was still rich. 'I think the real mistake would have been for it to peter out - it made sense for the series to begin with Mary Ann arriving in San Francisco and end with her departure.'

Heartbroken fans may be solaced by the news that Working Title begins shooting a six-part adaptation of Tales in April for Channel 4's autumn schedule. For Maupin, who acts as executive producer, it constitutes a triumph against the odds: 'Tales had been optioned off and on since 1979, so I got to know about the way Hollywood tries to 'modify' real life for its own purposes. I was told on repeated occasions that I'd have to cut back on the number of gay characters in order to make it acceptable for the American public. On the other hand I adore movies, so my response to the industry is divided.'

That ambivalence gets an extensive airing in Maupin's new book Maybe the Moon (Bantam pounds 14.99), which tells the short history of actress singer Cadence Roth, and takes some well-aimed swipes at Tinseltown along the way. Cady, like everybody else in Hollywood, wants to make big, doubly difficult in her case - she's 31 inches tall. Ten years ago she played the elf-hero in the second-top grosser of all time, Mr Woods, but shrouded in a rubber suit she herself remained invisible. Since then ambition has been cut right down to size: overlooked by her agent, she scrapes a living as a performer at children's parties and barmitzvahs. Well, it's a living. Via Cady's journal, we are acquainted not only with her feisty and funny determination to reach for the moon but also her heroic patience with the condescension and embarrassment she encounters among 'normal' people. Not surprisingly it's a struggle that can often induce a bad case of the blues, or Cady prefers, 'the mauves'.

The book is dedicated to the late Tamara De Treaux, a 31-inch actress and friend of the author. 'I used her situation as a launching point for the novel. I didn't know at first that she'd been cast as ET, because she'd been sworn to secrecy by Spielberg - or Steven, as she was calling him then. It's not intended as a roman-a-clef - it's more a parable about mythmaking in Hollywood.' One of the more fondly cherished myths - that to be gay is to be a freak - gets a savage comeuppance here. Cady's 'difference' is a physical representation of a condition well-known to gays: 'Yeah, but I always cringe at the suggestion,' says Maupin. 'Obviously I draw parallels between her and other outsiders in Hollywood, but all she's 'representing' is herself. I was just looking to tell a story about a little person which didn't treat that person as a grotesque or an object of fun.' Or, as Cady tells her agent, 'little people can turn up anywhere, just like redheads and queers'.

As in Sure of You there is a specific instance of sexual duplicity smuggled in from real life. Cady's writer friend Jeff finds romance with pin-up boy Callum Duff, currently starring in the thriller Gut Reaction as a cop on the trail of a psychopathic killer who is, almost inevitably, homosexual. As Jeff fulminates, 'It's the meanest script I've ever read . . . it cost two and a half million dollars, and it's just one more lousy cheap shot at fags'. So Maupin didn't much like Basic Instinct, then? 'Actually, when I finally saw the movie, I was more struck by its misogyny than its homophobia. I don't have any politically correct agenda. As an artist I don't want people telling me what I can or can't write, but it is terribly frustrating for gay people to see themselves in movies only as objects of fun or sinister, menacing figures. It's that middle range they won't let us occupy, because that's reserved for white-bread Americana.'

This might make the book sound more forbiddingly combative than it really is. Maupin sets about Hollywood and hypocrisy with pointed rigour, but he never allows the tone to go preachy. As in Tales, his great strength resides in a louche, light-footed wit, particularly effective in the potential bathos of the bedroom: 'The sex scenes were fun to write,' he recalls, 'but they took a long time because I had to work out the mechanics every inch of the way, so to speak. I knew there was a danger of toppling into pornography or absurdity, and I didn't want either. I wanted the scenes to be fun, and erotic, and believable.'

If Maupin's inclination, as his characters negotiate the tender trap of romance, is to overdose on schmaltz, chances are a tart bon mot will be on hand to offset the sweetness - 'love wouldn't be blind if the braille weren't so much damned fun'.

How does he do it? The fluency and fleetness of his storytelling derives, it's heartening to discover, from hard work. 'I always compare writing to laying mosaic - the moment-by-moment process is extremely tedious, and you have to keep some overall view of where you're going. I work very slowly, about three pages a day, and I polish as I go along.' I remark on how his dialogue seems to be happening before our ears. 'That's why] You know, it's funny - it seems obvious to me that sleek prose takes longer than turgid prose, but people appear to believe that a big, cumbersome, obstructive paragraph takes longer to write than one which flies off the page.' This prose is airborne all right, and with Maupin at the controls you can be pretty sure that the in-flight entertainment will keep you enthralled till touchdown.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
'Banksy Does New York' Film - 2014

Art Somebody is going around telling people he's Banksy - but it isn't the street artist

Arts and Entertainment
Woody Allen and Placido Domingo will work together on Puccini's Schicchi

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
The sixteen celebrities taking part in The Jump 2015

TV

Arts and Entertainment
British author Helen Macdonald, pictured with Costa book of the year, 'H is for Hawk'
booksPanel hail Helen Macdonald's 'brilliantly written, muscular prose' in memoir of a grief-stricken daughter who became obsessed with training a goshawk
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge has announced his departure from Blink-182

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
    Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

    Front National family feud?

    Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
    Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

    Pot of gold

    Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
    10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

    From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

    While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
    Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore